Taliban again refute claims of peace talks with West

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2011 7:14 AM
Taliban again refute claims of peace talks with West

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban again refuted on Wednesday claims they had entered into talks with the West to try and find an end to the war, saying any contacts with foreign countries had only been to negotiate prisoner exchanges.

In a statement emailed to media, the Taliban also repeated their long-standing position of rejecting any negotiations for peace as long as foreign troops were in Afghanistan.

"The rumor about negotiation with America is not more than the talks aimed at the exchange of prisoners. Some circles call these contacts as comprehensive talks about the current imbroglio of Afghanistan," the Taliban said.

"However, this shows their ... lack of knowledge about the reality. It is clear as the broad daylight that we consider negotiation in condition of presence of foreign forces as a war stratagem of the Americans and their futile efforts."

Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the United States was in direct talks with the insurgents but that talks were not at a stage where the Afghan government was sitting down with the militants.

Washington and London have both acknowledged there have been recent contacts with insurgents although former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he expected it could take months before any headway could be made.

But so little is known about these contacts that they have been open to widely different interpretations and any discussions that may be taking place are still not at a stage where they can be a deciding factor.

Despite trumpeting military gains, particularly in southern Afghanistan, foreign leaders and military commanders have long recognized the need for a political solution to a war that has now dragged on for almost 10 years.

In Wednesday's statement, the Taliban said they had been in contact with "some" countries to arrange prisoner exchanges, including most recently with France for the release of two French journalists and their Afghan translator last month.

The men were seized outside Kabul on December 30, 2009 and held captive for 18 months.

France has denied any ransom was paid to secure the release of the two men, and their Afghan interpreter Reza Din. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said revealing details of the negotiations could damage efforts to free other French hostages in Africa.

The Taliban said they were also continuing "direct and indirect" contacts to secure the release of U.S. and Canadian prisoners.

In June 2009, insurgents captured U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in southeastern Afghanistan and have released videos showing him in captivity dressed in both Afghan clothing and in military uniform.

In those videos, Bergdahl is seen denouncing the war in Afghanistan and calling for the United States to withdraw its troops from the country, in what the U.S. military has called illegal propaganda.

Bergdahl's abduction prompted a large-scale manhunt but U.S. officials have declined to comment whether they have tried to negotiate his release.

(Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)